The theme of this year’s National Care Leavers’ Week is New Belongings. It is also the title given to a project run by The Care Leavers’ Foundation inspired by expressions of loneliness, dislocation and segregation by care leavers.
National Care Leavers’ Week (NCLW) 2014 – New Belongings invites policy makers, practitioners, service providers and communities to pause and think what it might be like to be one of those care leavers starting out, feeling lonely and abandoned, scared and scarred, into a world where you no longer feel as if you belong anywhere, or to anyone.
I feel very honoured to be involved in this year’s NCLW and will be taking part in Flying on the Ground, New Beginnings Conference at Brathay Trust, Ambleside, Friday 24th October. I will be presenting the beginnings of my PhD research: ‘Hiraeth – Finding a Fictional Home – The impact of living in care on the construction of coherent narratives of identity and how this is represented in contemporary fiction.
I spent 16 years in children’s homes and institutions whilst growing up and thus have a personal interest in the needs of young people in care and the ongoing needs of care leavers. I also have personal experience of stereotyping.
I remember distinctly at primary school how the head teacher told the staff at the children’s home that I was a ringleader and troublemaker. Inside my head I argued trying to explain that it wasn’t me. I was a follower not a leader. But the words never came out. For the rest of my time in care and as a care leaver I have often had to face this prejudice.
Looked after children and care leavers have enough to deal with; mental health is precarious, as well as low self-esteem, low self-confidence and low achievement expectations. I have always been conscious of these negative stereotypes and the threat of failure.
I noticed that a lot of crime dramas seemed to feature care leavers as the baddie. A recent popular BBC psychological thriller, The Fall, portrays a serial killer who has spent his childhood in care homes. Kids in care are also often labelled ‘problem children’. Jenni Fagan’s recent novel, The Panopticon, (2012) takes the problem child to its extreme. The teenagers in this narrative are in a Victorian Panopticon, salvaged from its previous function as a jail, it is now a secure home for juvenile delinquents. Rogers, 1999, experiments with the damaged, criminalised care leaver in Island, Nikki Black thinks a lot about murdering her mother. Wheatle, (2002) delves into a children’s home in The Seven Sisters and investigates the consequence of abuse on one of its characters. Carlton ends his time in the children’s home by murdering his torturer.
My research will question whether this is how the identity of care leavers is represented in contemporary fiction, whether by writers who were or were not looked-after children.
I want to examine this research through the lens of both creative and critical practice. This means that I will write an autobiographical novel and a critical thesis.
‘Hiraeth’ is an autobiographical novel. Hiraeth has no word in English. It is a Welsh word meaning homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was.
How does a writer narrate a self that has been constructed by others, in this instance the institutionalised voice? The creative piece will explore my own experiences of leaving care as well as considering the positive aspect that reading fiction has had on my life.
A care leaver who at sixteen is left without home or support has to change in order to survive. If I can begin the process of challenging the negative stereotypes of care leavers as drug addict, homeless, or in prison, I will be adding a new voice to the critical and creative collective consciousness. This will broaden dialogue and possibly create a new cultural identity for care leavers.
I want to change the outcomes for Care Leavers and this means changing social consciousness and stereotypes.
I have been accepted to study for my PhD at Southampton University and will begin my research in February (2015). As many people are aware, a PhD is an expensive undertaking (the tuition fees currently stand at £3996 per year full-time). As I was unable to secure funding through traditional routes I have decided to try and crowd-fund the tuition fees for my first year by raising £1998 from donations and part-time work. Fund my PhD
Rosie is also a campaigner for care leavers and is the Social Media Coordinator for the Every Child Leaving Care Matters campaign.